Obituary: Sir James Goldsmith
Wednesday 23 July 1997
The house was frequented by his brother Teddy and inhabited, on the ground floor by the only man we knew with a live-in mistress, on the next floor by a bar-owner who had the first posh queer - as we said then - club in London and further up by one David Duck who, like his lover, only wore black and was reputed to sleep in a coffin.
Jimmy was 16, but looked older and had just been driven in a hired car from Eton, which he had abruptly left having won on an accumulator at Windsor Races, not before he had dropped, literally, so that they broke on the floor, as a parting gift, some classical 78s on his house tutor. Jimmy quickly acquired a taste and admiration for irregular behaviour to which, however grand he became, he was always loyal.
The next vacation, in my stepsister's Standard 8 tourer, I drove Jimmy and an exquisitely camp friend, Oliver Carson, to Portofino. We stopped off at the maid's rooms in the Scribe Hotel in Paris and the Carlton in Cannes where his father Major Frank, ne Goldschmidt and a pre-war Liberal MP for Cavenham, a courteous gentleman, was the director. Jimmy's manners came from his father and his energy from his mother, Marcelle, daughter of a French postmaster, off whom we undergraduates ruthlessly scrounged. When Oliver and I went down to breakfast, the scent of orange blossom wafting through the windows, Jimmy had done a flit to the more sophisticated pleasures of Venice, to its girls and, accessible to an ingenious young man with a flexible passport, its casino.
Jimmy soon acquired a court, of which I never formed a part, of people who hitched their wagon to his obvious star and who, again, he never deserted, but I did attend, at the Ritz Hotel in London, the plot, masterminded by Noel Whitcomb of the Daily Mirror, for his elopement with Isobel Patino, his first encounter with the rich and powerful, which he won. His second, he lost. Jimmy the preux chevalier, shocked by the cost to the French of medical drugs, investigated the subject and proposed their manufacture at a fraction thereof, but his enterprise was bought out, at a price, and crushed. This experience may have soured his idealism and conditioned his cynicism and contempt for government and big business.
I watched Jimmy's increasingly gargantuan affairs. Around 1978 we agreed that Sam White, the Paris correspondent of the London Evening Standard, whose column regularly chronicled his career, could write his biography. I bought Sam a tape recorder. Unfortunately Sam was sedentary at the bar of the Crillon, and Jimmy, not yet with his own 747, was never still. Their only interview, later seized by a court order - but not before I had played it to Richard Ingrams, then Editor of Private Eye - was drowned out by the sound of the clicking of ice cubes and the whoosh of soda in Sam's whiskies.
Laura, whom I had just married, and I were invited to Jimmy's establishment in Richmond to discuss a replacement. He sat her on his right and enchanted her. He wanted to show me his hit list of journalists. I asked for the names of those in that profession not on this list. There were two. One was Patrick Hutber, whom I secured for pounds l,000 advance.
Three weeks later he had left his City Editorship of the Sunday Telegraph and was working for Jimmy, who had seduced him with a car and a chauffeur. Then he was killed in a crash in his sports car. I never recovered my advance.
When Harold Wilson knighted Jimmy for services against Private Eye, who he was suing for criminal libel, I thought it my duty - and inclination - to interfere as a friend of both parties, being a director, since its beginning, of that organ.
Jimmy asked me to tea - an elegant affair with all the kit - which quickly moved on to gin and tonic and harangued me about the perfidy of his enemies in the press and described in ghoulish detail how he would destroy them. In vain would their tearful wives plead for mercy, etc.
Jimmy was not joking. I knew he had retained every private detective in Yellow Pages, ruined my friend John Addy, and possibly caused the death of the senior partner of a grand firm of Jewish solicitors. Indeed, one of that ilk, Arnold Goodman, not a nervous man, to whom I had appealed for help, not only refused but urged me to leave the kingdom as I was "diving into a nest of crocodiles".
I told Jimmy that Richard Ingrams could not be brought down, if only because he would enjoy martyrdom and relish the flames as they licked the soles of his feet. Besides, I added, he was an amusing fellow and why didn't we all have lunch?
Jimmy, a great man, switched.
"Ring him up," he said.
I did there and then, but Ingrams would not play.
Nevertheless I attended the court case. As I approached Jimmy, the lawyer Levene said to him, "Don't talk to Anthony Blond!"
Jimmy ignored him.
"I had a dream last night, Jimmy," I said, "and your father said to me, `Tell Jimmy to give up this case!' "
Unblinking, Jimmy replied, "And I had a dream last night, Anthony, and my father said to me - `You go with it, boy!' "
You could not win with Jimmy Goldsmith.
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